re: AB 721 (Bloom) Covenants and restrictions for affordable housing - Support
Updated: Jun 22, 2021
March 11, 2021
The Honorable Richard Bloom
California State Assembly
State Capitol, Room 2003
Sacramento, CA 95814
Re: AB 721 (Bloom) Covenants and restrictions for affordable housing - Support
Dear Assemblymember Bloom,
We write on behalf of Santa Monica Forward in strong support AB 721, a bill that makes density restrictions in restrictive covenants unenforceable against affordable housing developments.
Santa Monica Forward was founded in 2015 and now has over a thousand local supporters, who subscribe to our email newsletter, attend our events, and engage in our advocacy campaigns. We advocate for equitable and sustainable policies in the areas of housing, transportation, education, and economic development.
As you know, California has a statewide housing shortage of nearly 3.5 million homes. Low- and middle-income households face historic rent burden in California, and the problem worsens by the day as middle-income households move into naturally affordable housing previously occupied by low-income renters – forcing these households to move further away from their jobs, and in some cases, onto the streets. The passage of AB 721, in tandem with other laws and initiatives designed to fund affordable and supportive housing in the state, will help increase and equitably distribute California’s affordable housing stock by increasing the number of properties upon which affordable and supportive housing can be built and reducing the costs incurred by such developers to defeat challenges that rely upon enforcement of private restrictive covenants with density restrictions.
Though these restrictive covenants exist in many parts of California, they are particularly prevalent in high opportunity areas, such as Santa Monica and Westchester. Ensuring affordable housing can be built in these high opportunity areas will help the state meet its obligations to affirmatively further fair housing, and helps assure both choice and access to the resources usually found in more affluent communities – high performing schools, high quality transit, and a variety of employment opportunities.
Many of the density restrictions targeted by AB 721 are recorded as part of longer recorded agreements that contain explicitly racist and discriminatory restrictions, suggesting that the broader intent of those restrictions was to keep out the “wrong type of people.” At one point in time, approximately 80% of residential properties in the City of Los Angeles had racially restrictive covenants recorded prohibiting any non-white person from living on the property. The ability to enforce density restrictions in these private restrictive covenants against affordable and supportive housing developers simply advances the segregationist intent of their drafters. AB 721 makes significant progress in repairing those historical harms.
Further, AB 721 increases the ability of local jurisdictions to promote affordable and supportive housing through zoning and land use policies. Currently, restrictive covenants that limit density are treated as enforceable, even if the property is located in a city or county that permits more dense development on the property. This bill makes a simple and intuitive change: instead of allowing private owners to arbitrarily restrict density in a given neighborhood, in cases where affordable or supportive housing development is suitable based on existing zoning and Land Use designation, the existing zoning and Land Use designation will take precedence over any restrictive covenant if the property will be used for 100% affordable or supportive housing (exclusive of the manager’s unit(s)).
Historical segregation and redlining are a painful stain on our country’s history, and their impact continues to be felt and reinforced today by the prevalence of private covenants that prevent the construction of affordable and supportive housing. This bill is an important step towards addressing and eradicating the effects of generations of exclusionary systems that allowed for the creation of these private restrictive covenants, and gives cities and counties greater ability to promote the development of additional affordable and supportive housing in neighborhoods where such development is currently burdened by the existence of these private covenants.
For these reasons, we strongly support AB 721 and appreciate your leadership on this important issue.
Co-chair, Santa Monica Forward Co-chair, Santa Monica Forward